Generalists will appreciate Conti-Brown’s gentle hand-holding, and specialists will argue over his analytical slant that...

THE POWER AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE

An examination of the origins, evolution, structures, and functions of the American government’s most opaque institution.

This country’s argument over the wisdom, indeed the constitutionality, of a central bank is as old as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Now, after 100 years of the Federal Reserve System, the Hamiltonians have won the debate, but confusion about the Fed’s role and unease with its extraordinary power persists. Indeed, groups as disparate as the tea party and Occupy Wall Street are prepared to abolish it. Conti-Brown (Legal Studies and Business Ethics/Univ. of Pennsylvania; co-editor: When States Go Broke: The Origins, Context, and Solutions for the American States in Fiscal Crisis, 2012) touches only lightly on the Fed’s controversial history and rejects radical reforms such as auditing the Fed or establishing a default monetary policy rule. He argues in favor of simplifying the Fed’s governance, reforming the Board of Governors and the Federal Reserve Banks, and making more of the professional staff subject to presidential appointment. These sensible proposals emerge organically after the author’s focused discussion of the Fed’s many missions and the various internal and external constituencies that shape its policy. Conti-Brown stresses two principal themes: that it’s not enough to look only at the Fed’s legal architecture to understand it properly and that assessing the institution through the lens of its vaunted “independence” is not analytically useful. It’s too much to say that the author humanizes the Fed, but he goes a long way toward demystifying it. A creature of statute, yes, but the Fed is also a product of political compromise shot through with features that can only be understood by knowing history, by understanding how law and personalities relate one to another, and by accepting that in a democracy, politics and ideology are rarely inseparable from any governmental enterprise.

Generalists will appreciate Conti-Brown’s gentle hand-holding, and specialists will argue over his analytical slant that dispenses with a narrow and legalistic view of what the Fed’s all about.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16400-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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